Archive for the 'Idaho' Category

Feb 28 2015

A dry time

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

When I want to check an official record for an indication of how wet or dry the region is, I usually go to the Western Regional Climate Center (wrcc.dri.edu), which among other things compiles snowpack information for the western United States. The numbers there rise and fall, but at the moment the numbers on its charts seem not to look all that bad.

Usually I look for the percent of normal accumulated precipitation, which shows how various areas – river basins mainly, but broken down to much smaller units – are faring. 100 percent at this time of year typically would indicate normal levels. 150 percent would suggest some risk of flooding (at least in some places, depending on the lay of the land); 50 percent or less usually means dry times ahead.

The “water year” for measurement purposes started at the beginning of October, and for some weeks toward the end of last year the numbers were looking good, even on the high side. But in the last couple of months there’s been a gradual drop.

They’re still not terrible, and if they maintain where they are now into summer Idaho would have ample water. The Spokane River basin, at this writing, was 90 percent; the Salmon River, 97 percent; the Little Wood River basin 80 percent. Some are lower, like the Medicine Lodge area (64 percent) and Bear River Basin (76 percent). These are areas not usually awash in water to start with.

The problem is that so far this year, week after week, the numbers have been falling. The omens are not especially good.

I’d be uneasy about interpreting some of this except for the road trip I took last week around the Northwest. I know what February usually looks like in many of the state’s landscapes – in most years past there’s a good deal of white out there, especially in higher elevations – and it doesn’t much look that way now.

The standout was the Long Valley – the McCall and Cascade area. February is when McCall holds its traditional Winter Carnival, the centerpiece of which is a large collection of ice sculptures. The dates this year were January 27 to February 5, and there were as usual some great sculptures. (The winner was a Sphinx and pyramid theme. McCall usually is bathed in white during and for some time after the event.

But this year they held it not a moment too early. By the time early last week I passed through McCall, the snow was almost all gone, and only a few small, melting sculptures remained.

Look up to the mountainsides around Long Valley and you’ll find checkerboard broad and white surfaces, nothing like the solid white of yore. Continue Reading »

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Feb 21 2015

Keeping Idaho history alive

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Idaho

About a dozen years ago, Martin Peterson and I started work on a book project. Peterson, who had spent a career and then some in the core of Idaho state government, is an Idaho history obsessive, and we had latched onto the idea of writing a book about the 100 most influential drivers of Idaho history.

We had a lot of ideas about who should populate the list and how to rank them, but we wanted to run those ideas (and our understanding of the facts and context) past an unimpeachable authority who knew enough about Idaho history to be able to tell us, conclusively, if we were somewhere running off the rails.

Exactly one name came to us both: Judy Austin. And from the beginning of the project until shortly before it went to print, she looked over our lists, provided sage background and suggestions, and kept us on track. At least, as much as anyone could have.

This week, Austin is receiving the annual Idaho Humanities Council Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities award for her work on Idaho history. That work, which has been ongoing since 1967 and continues at full speed today, is so wide-ranging as to defy any further definition. The center of it, probably, is her more than two decades as editor of Idaho Yesterdays history magazine, up until its closure in 2002. (That closure by state officials, depriving the state of its only major historical publication, was and is a travesty.) Along the way, as the IHC noted, she “became a mentor, writer, bibliographer, co-author, consultant, and general encourager to countless researchers, young and old, engaged in exploring the history of Idaho and the American West.”

Those range from national bestselling author Anthony Lukas, whose magisterial Big Trouble (about the Haywood murder conspiracy trial) benefited greatly from Austin’s help, to Lin Tull Cannell, an amateur historian at Orofino who turned her interest in the pioneer William Craig into a book (which – disclosure here – I published) called The Intermediary. And, among many others over the years and on other efforts besides the 100, me. Continue Reading »

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Feb 21 2015

Legislators on IEN

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Some thoughts from legislators on what may happen with Idaho’s school broadband program.

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Feb 16 2015

On the front pages

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Idahoans head to North Dakota for oil money (Boise Statesman)
Capone case costs county half a million (Lewiston Tribune)
Aquatics center called ‘structurally unsafe’ (Moscow News)
Pullman may build new school (Moscow News)
OPE report suggests move legal work to AG (Nampa Press Tribune)
Schools treat e-cigarettes like drugs (Nampa Press Tribune)

Setting sales cost for Eugene Electric land (Eugene Register Guard)
Feds expand Kitzhaber finance probe (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard, Medford Tribune)
Congress looking into Cover Oregon issues (Portland Oregonian)
Republicans seek advantage in scandal (Salem Statesman Journal)
Polk Co puts law enforcement levy on ballot (Salem Statesman Journal)

Unfunded initiatives may face law (Tacoma News Tribune, Vancouver Columbian, Bremerton Sun, Olympian, Port Angeles News, Longview News)
Changes planned for 4th Street in Bremerton (Bremerton Sun)
Amazon drones may be barred by FAA (Seattle Times)
Washington rules going after carbon (Spokane Spokesman)
Pierce property taxes going up 7.7% (Tacoma News Tribune)

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Feb 14 2015

Medical costs and monopoly

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

The St. Luke’s Idaho Health System web site lists “facilities” – mainly meaning hospitals – at locations around Idaho including Boise (two hospitals there), Nampa, Caldwell, Eagle, Fruitland, Mountain Home, Jerome, Twin Falls, McCall, Meridian and Ketchum.

That’s some major reach. The main barrier keeping St. Luke’s from monopoly status is the St. Alphonsus organization, with hospitals in Boise and Nampa, an emergency room as well in Eagle, and other facilities in Caldwell.

These are not unusual cases: Nationally, health care is seeing major consolidations. The day of the independent, more or less, local hospital is at twilight, and more health businesses and non-profits (the differences between them can be subtle in some cases) are becoming Wal-Mart behemoths. And where will that take health care?

This question was peripheral – though it did relate – to the 9th Circuit Court decision handed down last week upholding Idaho District Judge Lynn Winmill in his order that St. Luke’s divest itself of the Saltzer Medical Group. The court described Saltzer as “the largest independent multi-specialty physician group in Idaho, [which] had thirty-four physicians practicing at its offices in Nampa.”

There’s a sense among many health providers that moving toward integrated systems, unifying the networks of physicians and health care organizations, is the best avenue toward controlling and maybe reducing health care costs. There’s some logic to this. The efforts underway to some extent nationally and to a larger degree in some states (Oregon and Washington for two) toward coordinated care are aimed at focusing on better health results for patients and a reduction of the pay-per-service approach, and systems that routinely bring people into the system via emergency rooms, which between them help drive up many costs. These efforts rely on bringing broad networks of health providers together to seek out efficiencies, rather than pit everyone individually to grub as much money out of the system as they can.

The 9th Circuit noted that “Saltzer had long had the goal of moving toward integrated patient care and risk-based reimbursement. After unsuccessfully attempting several informal affiliations, including one with St. Luke’s, Saltzer sought a formal partnership with a large health care system.” That turned out to be St. Luke’s. And leadership at St .Luke’s has mentioned as well the idea of more cooperative systems as a way to control health costs and improve results.

There’s some tension here between that possible improvement and concerns about monopoly. From the 9th Circuit decision again: “The district court expressly noted the troubled state of the U.S. health care system, found that St. Luke’s and Saltzer genuinely intended to move toward a better health care system, and expressed its belief that the merger would “improve patient outcomes” if left intact. Nonetheless, the court found that the “huge market share” of the post-merger entity “creates a substantial risk of anticompetitive price increases” in the Nampa adult PCP [primary care physician] market. Rejecting an argument by St. Luke’s that anticipated post-merger efficiencies excused the potential anticompetitive price effects, the district court ordered divestiture.” Continue Reading »

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Feb 07 2015

Sourcing those industry regs

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

The headline on the Idaho Reporter story said, “Idaho lawmakers mandate car dealership hours,” but that’s only one piece of the tale. The remainder is the portion few Idahoans see but accounts for a lot of the much-despised regulation of industry.

This particular instance arrived February 3 before the House Transportation and Defense Committee, which was reviewing new Idaho Transportation Department rules. One of them required a certain number of hours per week car dealerships must keep their doors open to the public, and report their business hours to state regulators. By a thin margin, the committee approved the rule.

Several committee members argued that this was governmental regulatory overreach – a government agency seeking more power than it ought to have.

But the underlying story emerged when Representative Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, said that “We need to support this because people in the industry support it.”

What? The industry supports this added piece of government regulation?

You bet.

The motivations may be several. One car dealer warned of shady operators who might be hard to find if things go wrong during a purchase or later. There could also be some motivation to set the bar to entry in the business a little higher, excluding people who might try to start a small dealership working on weekends. Without trying to read minds here, there may be in all a mix of rationales, both public-serving and self-serving. But these motivations come chiefly from the industry. In the case of the car dealer hours rule, you would not have seen such general support from the industry if that industry wasn’t the basic source of the proposal.

The testimony indicated that the department wrote the rule, but it’s a very safe bet that the push for it came from the auto dealers themselves. Remember the governmental rules regulating banking hours? Recall who was pressing for that? Here’s a hint: It wasn’t either bureaucrats or consumer groups.

Anyone who draws a bright line between government and business poorly understands either. Business lobbyists visit the legislature every year for more laws and rules, but that’s only the proverbial iceberg tip. Many of them, or representatives for them, are a regular presence at agencies too. The savvier associations lobby agencies all year long to alter or adopt rules they see as in their benefit (and maybe the public’s as well). Revolving doors between the regulators and the regulated are commonplace at the federal level but show up in the states too.

Regulation of most of the business and professional organizations that are today regulated, from doctors and lawyers to surveyors and truckers, got started in most cases with requests from those industries that they be regulated. When the doctors first sought regulation, they wanted to weed out the quacks and improve professional quality, and raise the bar to entry to limit the number of doctors. It’s an old story.

Not that this is all bad. Government should be responsive, and it should listen to the regulated as well as the rest of the public. It’s called the right of redress.

And there are sometimes public interests to be considered too; in the auto hours case, several legislators argued that steady hours would be clearly a consumer benefit. Maybe so. Continue Reading »

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Feb 03 2015

Data monster

Published by under Idaho,Reading

ridenbaugh Northwest
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From a guest opinion by Levi B Cavener. Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell. He also manages the blog IdahosPromise.org where a larger version of this piece, including hyperlinks to primary sources, is available.

Recently, Roger Quarles, executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and former chief deputy on Tom Luna’s staff, announced that the Albertson Foundation would change course in its philanthropic giving, moving away from public schools and focusing new dollars on community based projects.

The reason for the alleged shift seems to be due to an underlying frustration that teachers and schools just weren’t adopting Albertson-fueled “innovation” quick enough. In a recent Boise State Public Radio interview Quarles voiced his frustration regarding the lack of Idaho schools to adopt Albertson initiatives, “You have to look at that and go ‘fundamentally there’s some problems within that system.’”

Let me be clear: Albertson has done some terrific work in supplying schools and students with funds to pilot classroom technology, curriculum, and emerging instructional methods. However, let me also point out that Albertson and Quarles have been equally complicit in building those exact same “fundamental problems.” For example, take Idaho’s longitudinal cradle to cadaver data tracking system: Idaho System of Educational Excellence (ISEE) and its companion, Schoolnet.

ISEE/Schoolnet was developed to uniformly track student and teacher data across the state. Unfortunately, millions of dollars and years later – and funded by both Idaho and the Albertson Foundation – ISEE/Schoolnet, like Victor Frankenstein’s monster, is still lying on the table waiting to be shocked into life. ISEE/Schoolnet has been such a colossal failure that in 2014 Idaho paid school districts to fund whatever system they preferred.

Schoolnet was so dysfunctional that Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, inquired at a 2013 legislative committee meeting, “Is [Schoolnet] working anywhere, for any purpose, to improve education?” The answer? No. In addition, as reported in both the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Ed News, when the data finally made it into teachers’ hands, it often wasn’t accurate.

Said one U.S. Dept. of Education federal grant reviewer of Idaho’s original ISEE/Schoolnet plan, “Idaho could benefit from examining the successful models of several states and hiring a professional grant writer and some technical experts….” While such feedback should have initially tapped the brakes on the project, Idaho and the Albertson Foundation pushed the gas to the floor, with Albertson promising a $21 million dollar grant.

Which is where Mr. Quarles fits in. When the Legislature caught whiff of the project’s total ineptitude, Supt. Luna dispatched then-Chief Deputy Quarles to clean up the mess. It didn’t go well. Despite some “software CPR,” districts across the state jumped ship and started again using a hodgepodge of independent data systems. Continue Reading »

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Jan 31 2015

From 8802 to HB 2

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

In the spring of 1941 the United States, not yet at war but observing that much of the rest of the world was, was cranking its defense industry to full speed. It hit road bumps, one being a systematic unwillingness by some employers to hire certain workers, often on the basis of race or religion.

To counter this, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802. He declared that, “There is evidence available that needed workers have been barred from industries engaged in defense production solely because of considerations of race, creed, color or national origin, to the detriment of workers’ morale and of national unity.” And he ordered that defense contractors hire and treat employees the same regardless of “race, creed, color, or national origin,” not just as a matter of fairness but also as a matter of national security.

This long preceded the civil rights movement, but if the language sounds familiar, that’s no accident. The move toward equity seeded in World War II later set a kind of bar. In areas far beyond national defense, Congress and state legislatures declared that, in varying ways and for diverse groups of people, large-scale and commonplace discrimination has occurred, and that pushing back against it is in the national or state interest.

The 20-plus hours of testimony last week in Boise over House Bill 2, the now-rejected proposal to “add the words” of sexual orientation and gender identity, was an emotional event on both sides, but questions of broader interest, touching all Idahoans, got little attention.

The experience of other states and Idaho cities that have adopted similar language indicates that actual usage of the law probably would be slight. Since Boise passed a similar ordinance in December 2012, either two complaints or none (depending on your analysis) have been filed, and quietly handled, under it. That would be in line with most of the 20 or so states that have passed similar laws; the few much-noted cases involving cake-bakers and florists are rare enough to serve better as fluke news stories rather than as harbingers of trends.

Discrimination against gay and transsexual people, however, is not rare and not hard to document in substantial numbers, and in many places has mirrored the experience of people originally covered under the “race, creed, color” approach. Not many other social segments mentioned as prospects for “covered” groups (tall people, obese, smokers, others) can claim that scale of negative treatment.

Is there a social problem here, a need for action, as Roosevelt cited in 1941? Departing Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson offered one, saying that communities will be safer with the law in place because people afraid to report violent attacks became more willing to do so after Boise changed its ordinance. “We’ll all enjoy a safer community if we add the words to protect sexual orientation and gender identity in our Human Rights Act,” he said. Continue Reading »

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Jan 30 2015

Just the wolf facts

Published by under Idaho,Reading

ridenbaugh Northwest
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Idaho Department of Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore has maintained that many of the people active in the state’s wolf debates have been over- or under-stating various facts and distorting the issue. On January 29 he released this statement.

It’s important for state agencies to understand and respect differing points of view. But when a few advocacy groups try to grab headlines by skewing Idaho Fish and Game scientific wolf monitoring data in ways that simply aren’t true, it’s also important to set the record straight.

Here are the facts:

Idaho has more than 100 documented wolf packs and over 600 wolves. Idaho’s wolf population far exceeds federal recovery levels of 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves.

After meeting federal recovery levels in 2002, Idaho’s wolf population grew largely unchecked for the remainder of the decade, resulting in increased conflicts with other big game populations and livestock.

After 4 harvest seasons since the 2011 delisting, livestock depredations have declined. Wolf predation continues to have unacceptable impacts to some elk populations, but there are signs elk populations are responding positively to wolf management.

Wolves in Idaho continue to be prolific and resilient. Idaho will keep managing wolves to have a sustainable, delisted population and to reduce conflicts with people, livestock, and other big game populations.

Despite these facts, a few advocacy groups chose to take the breeding pair metric out of context to make claims that Idaho wolves are “teetering on the brink of endangered status once again.” That’s hogwash. And it’s the kind of polarizing misinformation that undermines responsible wildlife conservation and management in Idaho.

Confirming a pack meets U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s narrow definition of a “breeding pair” is costly and labor-intensive. With vast reductions in federal funding to the state and Nez Perce Tribe for wolf monitoring, Fish and Game has focused our effort on demonstrating Idaho has at least 15 “breeding pairs” to comply with federal recovery requirements. Idaho closely surveyed 30 packs and confirmed that 22 of them met the breeding pair standard at the end of 2014. Because Idaho has shown it is well above federal recovery levels, we may rely on less intensive monitoring for the other 70 + packs as we complete our final 2014 population estimates. One can assume these 70+ packs include some additional breeding pairs. We will publish our annual monitoring report in March.

As trained scientists, Idaho Fish and Game stands by our data and our wildlife management plans. We manage wolves to ensure we keep state management authority and address conflicts with people, livestock, and other big game populations.

I hope people who truly care about wildlife conservation ignore the exaggerations and misinformation and help Fish and Game focus on the real issues affecting Idaho’s wildlife.

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Jan 29 2015

From the ‘add the words’ hearing

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From the first day of hearings on the “add the words” bill (House Bill 2) at the Idaho Legislature. The hearing is being held by the House State Affairs Committee.

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Jan 24 2015

The salamander’s tale

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

The legislative activities most likely to draw a rolling-eyes reaction, at least in the days when I was a newspaper legislative reporter, was the designation of something as the official Idaho state “something.”

Idaho has a roster of them: 16 including the state song, motto and seal. The official fossil (the Hagerman horse; no jokes please). The official fruit (the huckleberry; no jokes, please). The official raptor (the peregrine falcon; you know the drill) as well as the official state bird (the mountain bluebird).

Most reporters and legislators used to think, at least: Do we really need more? Is there need to spend legislative time on additional designations? Turns out there are some practical reasons to do so.

The first bill introduced in this session, House Bill 1, sought to designate the giant salamander as the state amphibian. It was rejected on January 19 by the House State Affairs Committee.

It’s given me cause for a rethink.

At the hearing, Frank Lundberg of Boise, who is as expert on the subject of reptiles as anyone I know, pointed out that state symbols aren’t just ornamental: “They are a way to promote and enhance understanding of qualities that are unique to the state. Our symbols serve as messengers of what is special about Idaho to other people, states and countries.”

Why a state amphibian? Lundberg: “Amphibians are one piece of the natural heritage of Idaho that makes this state such a wondrous place to live. They have some amazing characteristics, some that could one day help medical research. Salamanders can regenerate lost limbs, some frogs freeze solid in the winter, having no heartbeat, and yet defrost in the spring and hop off. The word ‘amphibian’ means double life, referring to the fact that they are born in water but often live on land. Idaho Giant Salamanders epitomize the name ‘amphibian’ as they are born and live in water with external gills, yet for reasons we don’t quite understand yet, some individuals absorb their gills, grow lungs , and go live on land, only returning to the water to breed. Twenty other states have recognized this uniqueness by including these marvelous creatures in their state symbols.”

And, he pointed out, Idaho is the only place where the Giant Salamander lives.

How would Idaho benefit from this? “It says something good about Idaho. It says we care about the things that are unique to our state, to Idaho. It provides us with yet another symbol, another tool, which we can use to promote the benefits of Idaho to others. While it may be safely stated that not everyone cares if there’s a state amphibian, many in the country do care and will take note of one unique to Idaho. A few more people will visit the state. A few more scientists will study something in Idaho. School students will have another opportunity to learn more about Idaho.”

Practical benefits, then, at no cost.

The bill, proposed by a Boise junior high student, got support from Boise-area Democrats and Republicans, but not nearly enough to clear the committee. Continue Reading »

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Jan 22 2015

White House photo of the day

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Obama at Boise
 

President Barack Obama greets attendees at his Boise State University speaking event.

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Jan 18 2015

On the front pages

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Hospital taxes continuing even for privates (Boise Statesman)
Mediation entering criminal cases (Boise Statesman)
New political website from Zion Bank (Boise Statesman, Lewiston Tribune)
Boise phosphorus facility in Canyon protested (Nampa Press Tribune)
Large rally at statehouse for ‘add the words’ (Nampa Press Tribune)
Muslims at TF plan mosque expansion (TF Times News)
Checking in on drug court grads (TF Times News)
Looking at a quarter century of the lottery (TF Times News)

Damaged Leaburg Dam impacting fish hatcheries (Eugene Register Guard)
Pot panel goes to work on new rules (Eugene Register Guard)
Wyden town hall held at Klamath Falls (KF Herald & News)
Some scofflaws run up huge parking fees (Portland Oregonian)
Homeless in Portland high numbers than national (Portland Orgonian)
Analyzing widely varied gas prices in Salem (Salem Statesman Journal)

Legislature considers carbon tax idea (Everett Herald)
Longview industrial park going green (Longview News)
Cuts at Lewis-McChord seem highly likely (Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
Looking at direct flights to SeaTac (Port Angeles News)
Genetic study finds more about Kennewick Man (Seattle Times)
Clark jail issues emergency body alarms to some (Vancouver Columbian)
Reviewing Yakima’s homeless situation (Yakima Herald Republic)

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Jan 17 2015

The fight this session

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Idaho

Of all the subjects under the purview of Idaho government and politics, few ought to be less controversial than roads and road repair.

There’s no dispute that this is something state government ought to be doing. There’s no disagreement anywhere about the need for good roads, and that we need them for all sorts of reasons. And yet roads – or rather, paying for their upkeep, repair and the occasional expansion – have been in recent years the most difficult subject for Idaho governors and legislatures for reaching common ground.

Roads were the reason for the longest legislative session in Idaho history, in 2003. Roads got then-newbie Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter into big fights with the legislature right from his first session, and in 2009 roads funding was the main driver behind the second-longest legislative session in Idaho history.

And here we may be again. Right on schedule, even.

Otter’s case for road and bridge work was touched on quickly in his State of the State address, but it was compelling. He said, “We know that after education, investing in infrastructure is among the smartest, most cost-effective and frankly essential uses of taxpayers’ dollars to promote the public’s general welfare and sustain economic growth.” He’d probably not get much argument with that from the public – he pointed out surveys showing similar attitudes among Idahoans – or even among most legislators.

“We already have 785 state and local bridges in Idaho that are over 50 years old and considered structurally deficient. That number will grow to almost 900 bridges by 2019 even after completing work on the 68 for which we already have funding.”

And yet . . . it costs money. A lot of money.

Otter on that: “Chairmen Brackett and Palmer, legislative leaders, I am not going to stand here and tell you how to swallow this elephant. That would be contrary to all we have learned about each other and the people we serve in recent years. But we all know it must be done. I welcome financially responsible legislation that addresses steady, ongoing and sustainable transportation infrastructure in Idaho; however, I will NOT entertain proposals aimed at competing for General Fund tax dollars with education and our other required public programs or services.”

Sounds as if, on one hand, Otter is unwilling to trap himself into proposing a specific tax increase (which might fail), but on the other, telling legislators they have to do it, on whatever their own terms may be . . . so long as they’re not cutting other budgets to do it, which is another way of saying a tax increase will be needed. And Otter appeared to be saying he would veto any attempt to violate that proscription.

That would usually indicate a gas tax increase would be in the works. Given the wonderfully low price of gas right now, that may be the case. (The low price of gas also might help with gas tax revenues, since people may be buying more gallons than they were before.)

But the phrases “tax increase” and “Idaho legislature” haven’t gone together easily in recent years. Maybe recognizing that, Otter also proposed a few tax cuts – a sweetener for some legislators? – but at least one of those is likely to balloon over the next few years, slicing into state revenues.

What’s in development is an echo of those bitter road battles over the last dozen or so years. Don’t be too surprised if this shapes up as a longer, rather than a shorter, session.

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Jan 10 2015

Proposal and disposal

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

It’s an old, old phrase: The governor proposes, the legislature disposes. Seems to go back a century or so at least.

It’s worth considering in the coming week, as Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter makes his pitch at proposing. The question after that will relate to disposition of those ideas by the legislature.

Put another way, the governor’s state of the state speech (which for some years now has been merged with the budget speech) has been the opening shot in something of a wrestling match between the second and third floors of the statehouse. Governors are there year-round, and have a much higher profile and taller platform. But legislators made the decisions about what is and isn’t acceptable, and they are extremely protective of their prerogatives.

In each legislative session, at least in each with topics of real controversy, you’ll find this tension, and it’s certainly not diminished when the legislature and governor are of the same party. Transportation funding was the key reason the 2003 session lasted 118 days, still an Idaho record; the governor mostly got his way that time, but political bridges were torched along the way, and repair work lasted awhile.

There’s no particular reason to think 2015 will go that route; Otter will be delivering a number of specific proposals on Monday but compromise may be in the wind on a several of them.

Many eyes will be looking toward Otter’s call for restoring public school funding to where it was in 2009, before the economic dip wrenched the state. He’s not alone in that call or in expressing the sense it might happen; Senate President pro tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, who ought to be a good indicator, said in a legislative preview article, “There is a good chance that the legislature will completely restore the funding for public schools and approve the largest public education budget in Idaho’s history. Although portions of the funding increases will facilitate further implementation of the twenty recommendations of the education task force, more funds will also be available for the discretion of local school boards.”

Maybe; but there remain no small number of legislators who would prefer another round of tax cuts. We’ll have to get a few weeks into the session to see how that plays out. Continue Reading »

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Jan 07 2015

Video: Rifles in Idaho

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column


 
Austin Overman of LRSU competing in the November 2014 Precision Rifle Series in Idaho. This is the first “for points” match of the 2015 season even though it’s being held in 2014. (November 18)

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Jan 03 2015

A Dixie invocation

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

I was born in Dixie, meaning the old Confederacy, an hour away from its capitol, and probably – since the occasion was in December – on a frosty morning as well. And long ago enough that in public schools there, we read in the school history books how slaves in the south were mostly well treated, and we sang “Dixie,” though we were never told that the narrator in the song is a former slave, living in the north, who pines to return to his plantation down South.

This was all deeply woven into the local history and culture. Idaho was not much part of the Civil War. Many of its early miners were southerners, but Idaho never was a slave territory. By the time substantial number of settlers arrived slavery was legally banned,and by the time of statehood most Idahoans had come from pro-Union areas like the midwest and northeast. So what would “Dixie” mean to Idaho? What does it mean today?

Those questions matter in the Idaho Court of Appeals case of Idaho v. James D. Kirk aka Snoop. As the alias may lead you to guess, Kirk is black. In August 2012, prosecutors said, he was in Nampa when he encountered four girls (who were white) under age 18, invited them into his motel room, and sexual activity occurred. Kirk admitted to all but the last part, but physical evidence of a sexual encounter was found. Kirk was convicted of two charges (lewd conduct with a minor under 16 and sexual battery of a minor 16 to 17 years of age). His appeal centered not on the evidence but on what the prosecutor said in her rebuttal closing argument:

“Ladies and gentlemen, when I was a kid we used to like to sing songs a lot. I always think of this one song. Some people know it. It’s the Dixie song. Right? Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton. Good times not forgotten. Look away. Look away. Look away. And isn’t that really what you’ve kind of been asked to do? Look away from the two eyewitnesses. Look away from the two victims. Look away from the nurse in her medical opinion. Look away. Look away. Look away.”

Many are the ways a prosecutor could argue that the defense is trying to persuade a jury to ignore the evidence. This one invoked the unofficial song of the Confederacy, in a case involving a black man charged with having illicit sex with white girls. She had to have known the implications of doing that are loaded.

As the Court of Appeals parsed the argument: “nothing in the record suggests that the jurors harbored any racial prejudice or that they were actually influenced by the prosecutor’s recitation of “Dixie,” but the risk of prejudice to a defendant is magnified where the case is as sensitive as this one, involving alleged sexual molestation of minors. In this circumstance, both the constitutional obligation to provide criminal defendants a fundamentally fair trial and the interest of maintaining public confidence in the integrity of judicial proceedings weigh against imposing a stringent standard for a defendant’s demonstration that the error was harmful.”

The case was bumped back downstairs; Kirk will be given a new trial.

Why would a prosecutor in Idaho seize on “Dixie” as a foundational metaphor in a case like this? It hardly seems like a random choice. One thought process that comes to mind goes something like this: Idahoans increasingly are identifying themselves with Dixie, with the states of the old South, not just politically but in other ways as well, and that would be a way to align the prosecution with the people in the jury. Continue Reading »

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